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Iraqi President Decries U.S. Detention of Iranians

December 25, 2006 at 6:10 PM EST
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TRANSCRIPT

GWEN IFILL: James Glanz, welcome. First, start by telling us how this raid occurred.

JAMES GLANZ, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, apparently acting on credible intelligence or what is believed was credible intelligence, the American military first raided a compound that is run by Abdul Aziz Hakim, the head of a very prominent Shiite political party, and then picked up a second group of people in a car with embassy markings, or at least an official embassy car, over on the other side of the river to the west. And in those raids, a number of Iranians were picked up.

At least two of the Iranians had diplomatic passports. And it’s believed that two of the other Iranians were senior military officials from their country.

GWEN IFILL: This was a politically delicate thing, to actually go into that compound and to arrest people who turned out to have links to Jalal Talabani.

JAMES GLANZ: Right. Well, a spokesman for the president, Jalal Talabani, later said that two of the people who were picked up, two of the Iranians, were actually there at the invitation of the Iraqi government, the president himself. He extended that invitation, he said, during a visit to Tehran not too long ago, and the idea, according to his office, was that they were making rapprochement with Iran in hopes of talking about security and working on issues of interest to both countries. There was nothing nefarious in that, according to the president.

GWEN IFILL: It seems like this is one of those things that one would expect the U.S. officials to coordinate with Iraqi officials. Did that not happen?

JAMES GLANZ: We’re not sure about that. That’s a theme that recurs here.

It seems clear that American forces led this raid. At least one of our sources said that it was done in cooperation with Iraqi forces, but later, when we talked to Iraqi political figures and government figures, a number of them were upset that this had happened. They considered it an embarrassment. Whether they were in the loop before the raid took place is still open to question.

Iranian involvement in violence

James Glanz
The New York Times
If you already suspected Iranian influence here with the militias, with the political parties, this would be an arrow in your quiver.But...we don't really know yet whether [the Iranians] actually were involved in bad activities.

GWEN IFILL: Now, are U.S. officials saying that this in any way proves that there is Iranian input or influence involved in a lot of this sectarian violence?

JAMES GLANZ: That's the big question. I don't think that these raids answer that. Certainly, if you already suspected Iranian influence here with the militias, with the political parties, this would be an arrow in your quiver.

But first of all, we don't really know yet whether they actually were involved in bad activities, in attacks on American and Iraqi forces, which was the suspicion when these raids were carried out. We won't know that really until the interrogations, which are still taking place in some of these Iranians.

The two with diplomatic passports have been released. Two other, basically guards, have been released.

Those who are being held are being questioned, and we don't know the outcome of this investigation yet. So the answers really aren't there yet, Gwen.

Getting the troublemakers out of Iraq

GWEN IFILL: U.S. officials have said that this will give Iraqis a chance to seize the opportunity to get the troublemakers in their midst rooted out. Is this something which Iraqis are saying they can do?

JAMES GLANZ: Well, this is a constant point of friction between the Americans and the Iraqis. First, it's far from clear that the Iraqis consider these people to be troublemakers. As I said, some of the senior government officials here we talked to said they were here at the behest, the invitation of the Iraqi government. And even if they weren't, there is not the immediate presumption on the part of Iraqis, the kind of presumption you see on the part of Americans, that an Iranian in Iraq is necessarily a bad thing.

I mean, again, it really depends on what the Americans find in their investigation. And if they do discover that they were involved in militia activities, then I think you will really see a diplomatic flurry in which the Iraqis try to sort this out, decide what they want to do, and the Americans will, of course, discover whether the Iraqis are prepared to do what you said -- that is, clear out the bad guys.

Hakim's influence

GWEN IFILL: Abdul Aziz Hakim. Most people are not familiar with him, at least weren't until he came to the United States recently to meet with President Bush. Have we heard anything from him about his reaction to what happened at his compound?

JAMES GLANZ: Mr. Hakim is one of the most influential Shiite political leaders in the country. He heads the organization called SCIRI, one of the political blocs that really controls the government.

It's clearly an embarrassment to him that this took place on his property. He's not decided to clarify what happened there yet, or what he thinks happened on his property, why the people were there or whether they were up to things they shouldn't have been. We've certainly asked him to do so. So far, we haven't heard his version of events.

And timing has caught a lot of people's attention. He's just met with the president. He's involved in forming a new political bloc in Iraq. Those negotiations have stalled recently. But whether there was -- there will be political implications, you know, on a national level among the Shiite blocs here remains to be seen.

Iran-Iraq relations

James Glanz
The New York Times
Iran will always have to question whether Iraq can carry through unilaterally on its promises and commitments without either consulting with the American military, or at least having the wild card of the American military presence taken into account.

GWEN IFILL: And finally, U.S. influence aside, does this sort of raid have an effect on Iran-Iraq relations?

JAMES GLANZ: I think it does, because when Iraq and Iran deal with each other as sovereign nations, that's one thing. But now, Iran will always have to take into account the possibility that a deal struck or an agreement or just discussions, promises made between these two countries will always be subject to the -- if not the approval, then at least possible interference of the third person in the room here, and that's the American military. So Iran will always have to question whether Iraq can carry through unilaterally on its promises and commitments without either consulting with the American military, or at least having the wild card of the American military presence taken into account.

GWEN IFILL: James Glanz of the "New York Times," thank you very much.

JAMES GLANZ: Thank you very much.